Los Alamos National Laboratory

Computing Happiness

Forget just wanting to be happy. According to Aristotle, it’s your ethical responsibility. Marko Rodriguez, formerly of the Laboratory’s Center for Nonlinear Studies, thinks computers should help you fulfill that responsibility.

Aristotle’s idea, called eudaemonia, Greek for “good spirit,” was that society benefits when everyone successfully pursues his or her talents and rational desires (Aristotle was big on being rational).

Image of Aristotle

Radioactive ions in solution Resin molecule Rodriguez is designing eudaemonic algorithms for computer systems to use in directing us to whatever fulfills us.

“Eudaemonic systems are the evolutionary goal of today’s recommender systems,” he says. “The most ambitious ones would satisfy a need before the need is even felt.”

Anticipating needs is already what recommender systems do. Select a book from Amazon or a movie from NetFlix and you get a list of other things you might like. What limits today’s recommender systems is the cache of resources they can access.

“They rely on a single ‘silo’ of data,” Rodriguez explains, “a particular niche of information, such as movies and books.” And they can’t cross niche boundaries; they can’t, for example, recommend a place to live based on a book or movie you chose. A eudaemonic system would connect its user to resources related to all aspects of life, and for that, it would reach beyond the silo.

It’s already happening. More and more datasets on the Web are open, freely available and not tied to a particular application. Open datasets can be linked in what Rodriguez calls a cloud, with accessible links ranging across a multirelational network: a network in which datasets are linked according to something they have in common.

The basis of such a network is the resource description framework, or RDF, a computer language that identifies relationships between resources rather than just pinpointing a resource’s location (address) on the Web. RDF has already been used to create a “linked data cloud” of 89 datasets supplied by providers who have collaboratively integrated their data. Rodriguez, who now works for AT&T Interactive, a creator of search products and services, predicts that the linked data cloud will grow. For future seekers of a happy life, that cloud will have a silver lining.

—Eileen Patterson

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